Syphilis is a bacterial infection in your blood that is easily transmitted. You can get it from fucking or getting fucked, oral sex (giving or receiving), arse play or through direct skin-to-skin contact with sores or rashes you may not notice on the genitals, arse, mouth, lips or skin.

In Australia, cases of syphilis have been increasing amongst gay men, especially those who:

  • Have a high number of sexual partners (more than 10 sexual partners in the last six months)
  • Have group sex
  • Share sex toys or fisting
  • Are HIV positive

How can I tell if I have syphilis?

Sometimes symptoms may be mild and not noticeable during the early stages of the infection, and during the latent stage of syphilis you won’t experience any symptoms at all. The best way to find out if you’ve contracted syphilis is to get a blood test.

Syphilis symptoms

If you do have symptoms of syphilis, they will appear in three stages: primary, secondary and latent.

Primary syphilis

A sore (called a ‘chancre’) will form at the site where the bacteria enters the body – on the cock, front-hole, balls, mouth or arse. It’s usually painless, but in some cases, it can cause discomfort and there may be more than one sore. The sore clears up on its own after three to six weeks and is followed by symptoms of secondary syphilis.

Secondary syphilis

There are a many symptoms that can be caused by secondary syphilis. One of the most common is a rash on the body that often includes the palms of the hands and soles of the feet. Other possible symptoms include:

  • Headache
  • Fever
  • Swollen lymph glands

For many people, symptoms are mild and can go away without treatment.

Latent syphilis

This is the stage of syphilis where you have no symptoms. It lasts indefinitely, however, after two years you are no longer considered infectious. During this time, syphilis may still affect your heart, brain, nerves and bones.

In the pre-antibiotic era people went on to develop tertiary syphilis although that is very uncommon now.

How do I get tested for syphilis?

A blood test is the most common way to get tested for syphilis. If you have sores present, swabs may also be taken for testing.

Because syphilis is fairly common amongst gay men who have a high number of sexual partners, men who are into group sex, sharing sex toys or fisting, and men who are HIV positive, you should get tested for syphilis every three months if you fit any of these categories.

How soon can you test for syphilis?

Regular testing is the best way to identify if you have contracted any STI, syphilis included. If you start showing symptoms of syphilis infection, you should get a test as soon as possible.

How can I be treated for syphilis?

When diagnosed early, syphilis is treated with an antibiotic injection and/or course of antibiotic tablets. Treatment for syphilis is more complex if there is an infection involving the brain. Latent syphilis usually requires multiple antibiotic injections or a longer course of antibiotic tablets.

It’s also important to tell your recent sexual partner(s), as they may need to be tested and treated for syphilis. Take advantage of our free ‘Let them know’ SMS service here.

How can I reduce the risk of contracting syphilis?

The best way to reduce your risk of contracting syphilis is to use condoms and lube whenever you play, but keep in mind that only the areas covered by the condom are protected from infection.

What if I’m HIV positive?

If you or your partner have untreated HIV, syphilis can be more of a problem than usual. For some poz guys, syphilis can progress faster through the nervous system, requiring more complex treatment.

Therefore, it’s important to make sure you get tested regularly for STIs if you’re sexually active. If you do have syphilis, your doctor can monitor your progress and symptoms, so any abnormalities can be addressed.

If I’m on PrEP, how will syphilis affect me?

While PrEP is an excellent tool at preventing HIV, it doesn’t provide any protection from other STIs like syphilis. If you would like added protection against STIs, it’s a great idea to also use condoms and lube, so make sure you keep them handy when you’re playing.

Fast facts about syphilis

  • Syphilis is transmitted by skin-to-skin contact during sexual activity
  • Some people don’t get symptoms, while others may get mild or more severe symptoms
  • The best way to avoid contracting syphilis is by using condoms whenever you have sexual contact with another guy
  • It’s important to get tested regularly, as syphilis can be cured.